The National Alcohol Strategy 2019-2028 has been agreed after months of controversy over the involvement of the alcohol industry in its development.
Accusations of meddling have plagued the Department of Health’s report, which aims to prevent and minimise ‘alcohol-related harm’ by identifying priority areas, promoting the collaboration of government and non-government sectors.
The strategy’s ambition is to reduce ‘harmful alcohol consumption’ by 10 per cent, which it classifies as drinking alcohol at levels that put an individual at risk of injury or illness, either as a result of one occasion of drinking, or across a lifetime.
It suggests both federal and state level options for policymaking across four areas: Improving community safety; supporting individuals to obtain help; promoting healthier communities and managing the availability, price and promotion of alcohol, the latter of which is the most likely to affect the brewing industry,
Measures the strategy put forward as policy suggestions include:
- Plastic glassware in high risk venues and settings
- Accessible public transport
- Review duty free restrictions
- National standardisation of Responsible Service of Alcohol requirements
- Build the capacity of local community stakeholders to contribute to liquor licensing policies
- Introduction of a minimum floor price for alcohol
- Direct revenue from alcohol taxation towards preventive health activities (including a focus on alcohol-related harm) and alcohol and other drug treatment services
- Taxation reforms such as volumetric taxation
- Implement measures to reduce alcohol advertising exposure to young people (including online and sporting events)
- Measures to prevent promotion of discounted/low priced alcohol that is associated with risky drinking, including bulk-buys, two-for-one offers, shop-a-dockets
- Extend the single national advertising code to cover placement and content across all media which provides consistent protection of exposure to minors regardless of programming.
The World Health Organisation has shown that taxation, implementing bans on advertising and restricting the availability of alcohol “are the most efficient strategies to minimise the harmful use of alcohol” it said, and highlighted that Australia consistently ranks in the top third of countries for the taxation of alcoholic beverages, particularly beer and spirits.
It acknowledged that governments collect a “significant amount” of revenue through licensing fees and excise from the alcohol industry, but said the industry also has a responsibility to prevent and minimise alcohol-related harm.
Australia’s overall consumption of alcohol on a per capita basis has declined since 2009 the National Alcohol Strategy documents acknowledged, and the department admitted that the “majority of Australians do not drink alcohol at risky levels”.
It highlighted the “complex role” that alcohol plays in Australian society, and highlighted that the number of people under 30 abstaining from alcohol had “significantly increased” since 2001, but said there was still a problem in that 1 in 3 people exceed the guidelines, drinking four or more standard drinks in one sitting.
It also mentioned unhealthy habits in Australian society, including that of all the Australians who experienced a physical assault, 37.2 per cent were committed by an offender who was under the influence of alcohol.
“Greater attention should be paid to the relationship between access to alcohol and family violence in light of the evidence showing that alcohol misuse increases the severity and frequency of family violence,” it said.
The strategy highlighted indicators of change including a reduction in alcohol-related emergency department presentations and hospitalisations, and instances of alcohol-related violence and motor vehicle crashes.
Progress will be monitored by the Ministerial Drug and Alcohol Forum (MDAF) and the National Drug Strategy Committee (NDSC).
So far, sections of the alcohol industry have reacted positively to the final strategy. Andrew Wilsmore of the Alcohol Beverages Australia group said in a media statement that the strategy “underscores the importance of continuing [initiatives implemented by the alcohol industry] and building on them further to help achieve [it’s] ambitious target”.
Meanwhile the Brewers Association of Australia, encompassing CUB, Lion and Coopers, welcomed the strategy.
“Consumers will be relieved. The draft Strategy had originally contained a number of proposals that could have led to increased taxes, higher prices and restricted access, said CEO Brett Heffernan in a statement sent to the press.
“To that end, we are pleased by the decision of federal and state governments not to proceed with a proposal in the draft Strategy to exclude industry from the important conversation on how further to reduce harm.,” he said.